Cubs

Minor League Roundup: Cubs, White Sox call up top prospects

Minor League Roundup: Cubs, White Sox call up top prospects

Each week, CSNChicago.com goes down on the farm for a minor-league report from both the Cubs and White Sox system, presented by Service King.

CUBS

The week after the Cubs called up Albert Almora Jr., they again aggressively promoted a prospect, promoting catcher Willson Contreras to the majors Thursday.

Contreras has been on an absolute tear the last three-plus weeks, hitting .383 with a 1.215 OPS, 16 extra-base hits and 24 RBI in 20 games. 

He doesn't figure to play every day in the big leagues with veterans Miguel Montero and David Ross still around, but Contreras should get plenty of experience on the best team in baseball and can come along slowly, without much pressure.

With Triple-A Iowa, Taylor Davis is on the seven-day disabled list, but when he returns, he figures to take on the bulk of catching duties.

David Freitas, 27, also provides some depth at catcher for Iowa and has a .920 OPS in eight Triple-A games so far.

WHITE SOX

The Tim Anderson era is underway on the South Side.

The White Sox have been looking for a boost on offense and it appears they have gotten it. Anderson was recalled to The Show last week after dominating in Triple-A.

After struggling in his first 12 plate appearances in the MLB – recording only one hit, which came in his first career at-bat – the White Sox switched the 22-year-old shortstop from batting ninth to leadoff (where he’d been hitting in Triple-A) prior to their series against the Detroit Tigers.

Since the change, Anderson has really brought a spark to the big league club and is starting to settle in nicely.

Through six games, Anderson is 8-for-25 with four extra-base hits and helped the White Sox win only their second series in their last 11.

In the meantime, since Anderson’s departure, the Charlotte Knights have started struggled in offensive production. After scoring a combined 14 runs in a doubleheader on Saturday – the first day without Anderson, the Knights have combined for only five runs in their last four contests.

In 55 games in Triple-A Charlotte, Anderson was .304/.325/.409 with four homers, 20 RBIs, 10 doubles and 11 stolen bases.

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”